A Naked Girl on the Appian Way

  • Date:
    October 1, 2005
    Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg

     

    Written by: Richard Greenberg
    Directed by: Doug Hughes
    Produced by: Roundabout Theatre Company
    Cast: Jill Clayburgh (Bess Lapin), Richard Thomas (Jeffrey), Matthew Morrison (Thad), Susan Kelechi Watson (Juliet), James Yaegashi (Bill), Leslie Ayvazian (Elaine) and Ann Guilbert (Sadie).
    Synopsis: Bess is a successful cookbook author and her husband Jeffrey is a distracted genius whose lives are upended when their two children return from a year of European travel and reveal surprising news that stretches the family beyond their breaking point.
     

    Polly Wittenberg's Review.

    While leafing through the Playbill for the Roundabout�s new production at the American Airlines Theater, I was moved to mangle a legendary film title: If It�s the Hamptons, This Must be Richard Greenberg. That�s because I have such a strong memory of one of his early plays (1988) called Eastern Standard in which a bunch of young rich tanned Upper East Siders blabbed on and on about their various neuroses on the luxury beach in an occasionally witty way.

    Some representatives of that social set seem to have grown up (or, at least grown older). As depicted in Greenberg�s new show, A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, Bess Lapin (Jill Clayburgh) is a successful cookbook writer who appears on Food Network and her husband Jeffrey (Richard Thomas) is a semi-retired Wall Street wheeler-dealer now at work on a book about the relationship between business and art. They are the self-satisfied parents of three grown adopted children and owners of a perfect John Lee Beatty-designed beach house complete with sky-high window walls, cushy couches covered with ticking and a Viking stove. What could be wrong?

    It wouldn�t take a Kreskin more than 10 seconds to figure out the family�s problem after son Thad (Matthew Morrison) and daughter Juliet (Susan Kelechi Watson) return from a 17-month Grand Tour of Europe. Nor is there anything remotely surprising or illuminating in the responses of Mom, Dad and brother Bill (James Yaegashi) (who describes himself as �an ordinary guy� in a cute reference to the song from Showboat) to the situation. Let�s just say that the appropriate show title for the Lapin family lifestyle and values is Anything Goes.

    Greenberg retains some facility for the clever phrase as when Bess the cookbook writer describes herself as not knowing �beans about edamame� and her husband�s achievement in business as developing a �humane approach to exploiting cheap labor.� Or when Bill describes his alma mater, Harvard, as �the Ohio State of the Ivy League.� But when the children start accusing each other of being Nazis or Kamikazes or South of the Border Incest Girls, or Sadie (Ann Guilbert), a grey-haired busybody neighbor, seeks yuks by yelling �you dumb bitch� at every female character within earshot, it is quite clear that the crude has overtaken the droll in Mr. Greenberg�s world.

    The show is efficiently directed by Doug Hughes. I�ve never been a fan of Mr. Thomas and his whiny performance here does nothing to change my mind. Ms. Clayburgh is a nice combination of sleekness and warmth and it�s good to have her back on stage. The rest of the cast is competent and might be more so if given material that dealt with life in an area larger than the zip codes served by Avenue magazine.

    Polly Wittenberg

     

    What the critics had to say.....

    BEN BRANTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �Sound alarmingly like a last-ditch pitch for a comedy series by a writer desperate to make back alimony payments.�
    HOWARD KISSEL of the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says "Everything is fake - especially the emotions."
    CLIVE BARNES of THE NEW YORK POST says "There's virtually nothing wrong with this play except the play itself."
    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "A superficial affair prettily staged by Roundabout Theatre Company, It won't linger long in memory, but for the here and now offers audiences a convivial Broadway diversion."
    MICHAEL FEINGOLD of VILLAGE VOICE says "Surely Doug Hughes has better plays to direct, including some by Greenberg."
    ROMA TORRE of NY1 says "Seems content to dazzle us with big words and hollow laughs"
    JACQUES LE SOURD of the Journal News says "The play is not remotely funny. Its three acts run without intermission, presumably so no one will be able to flee before the end."
    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS says "Director Doug Hughes, the skilled hand behind such plays as "Doubt" and "Frozen," gives the play a stylish spin. But despite its attempt to be provocative about the nature of family, style and spin seem to be what "A Naked Girl on the Appian Way" is all about."
    FRANK SCHECK of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says "A farcical comedy of manners that, while never quite achieving any profundity, does provide a fairly steady stream of laughs along the way. "

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    New York Daily News
    New York Post
    Village Voice
    Journal News
    Associated Press
    Hollywood Reporter